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Cardinals' Ryan hoping 'stache can help snap slump

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Long after the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals shaved off their good-luck mustaches last year, Brendan Ryan kept the look going. Just like his breakout year.

Stands to reason he's decided to try facial hair again in an attempt to recapture that long-lost feel as he struggles along with his team.

"I'm doing anything possible to make some good things happen," Ryan said. "Whatever it takes."

The 28-year-old Ryan was the opening day starter at shortstop, valued for his exceptional range on defense and timely hitting coming off a .292 average a year ago. Manager Tony La Russa has often said he's the best defensive shortstop he's had, a group that includes Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Ryan landed on the bench Sunday due to a 1 for 28 slump at the plate combined with erratic play in the field that included consecutive two-error games during the last homestand — miscues La Russa blamed on Ryan attempting to dazzle with the glove.

Ryan's first start in five days in a 4-2 victory over the Marlins was a positive step back: a single and walk, sure-handed plays in the field.

But he realized it was a small step and needed to earn his way back after being demoted to a platoon role, a move timed with Felipe Lopez's return from the 15-day disabled list. He was back on the bench Friday behind Lopez, who has played well at shortstop, and second baseman Skip Schumaker.

"I'm not going to bury him, so he'll get his chance," La Russa said. "It's certainly not like we lack confidence in him, but when a guy's struggling as much for him as for us you've got to get him out of there."

Plus, Ryan was batting just .167 with six RBIs and entering the weekend.

"I'll come to the park ready to play, but I'm going to have to assume it's going to be Skip and Felipe," Ryan said.

Ryan got a late start to spring training after undergoing wrist surgery in February but appeared to be up to speed by opening day. Instead, only problems. Normally an effervescent player, he's been tightlipped and grim during at-bats.

La Russa said it's been difficult watching Ryan's spiral, and was pleased to see Ryan have some success.

"He's got a great heart," the manager said. "His emotions aren't on his sleeve, they're all over his body."

During his enforced down time, Ryan has been working on getting his timing back at the plate. Batting coach Mark McGwire worked with Ryan during the winter and has emphasized balance, swinging at the pitches he can handle instead of chasing deliveries out of the strike zone, and getting the count in his favor.

He believes his woes are both mechanical and mental.

"I care a lot, and I think that can be a problem at times," Ryan said. "Things were not going my way for quite a while and it's hard to just kind of look past that, but it's part of being a professional."

Lately, Ryan has been working with the Cardinals' other batting coach, Mike Aldrete.

"I've gotten a couple of texts from guys who said 'It doesn't look like you're having fun,'" Ryan said. "I need to find a way to have fun again."

That's where the mustache comes in. Or will eventually. After Thursday's game, there wasn't much to show for the effort.

Last weekend, Ryan tried shaving his head.

"So we'll go with the 'stache," Ryan said. After Thursday's game, he was wearing the "Respect the Stache' T-shirt players made last year, too.

"Just because. Why not?" Ryan said. "I'm trying to pretend it's almost opening day, it's a fresh start."